By ABE ASHER
Children at the southern border of the United States are being held, separated from their parents and siblings, sometimes in warehouses, 20 to a cage, sometimes for months, with no end in sight.
They’re incarcerated. Not officially, of course – kids at one facility in San Diego are told upon arrival that they’re not being kept in detention centers – but what we’re dealing with here are the kinds of non-detention centers in which you are allowed just two hours per day outside, just two phone calls per week.
Why is this happening? In the past, a large number of the people caught entering the United States illegally were simply sent back over the border with whomever they came they with, or, better, released into the U.S. to go before immigration judges and make their cases for asylum.
But in April, the Trump administration adopted a “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration – mandating that anyone caught be prosecuted, if only for misdemeanor illegal entry, and that parents awaiting prosecution be jailed apart from their children.
Thus, we’ve arrived at a place where mothers have reportedly been told that their children are being taken away for baths by border agents, only to realize hours later that they aren’t coming back.
The U.S. does not have facilities enough to accommodate the thousands of children they’ve taken, and so we’ve come to the camps phase of the Trump presidency: a tent city has been constructed for youth detainees reportedly in Tornillo, Texas.
It is, by the way, an open question whether the government is tracking in any serious or uniform way the location of the children that they have captured so that they can be reunited with their parents before their parents are deported.
But there is no question that the government is inflicting upon these kids the kind of trauma that lasts. Pediatricians in Texas are worried about children suffering “irreparable harm” while they’re held, and their parents aren’t doing much better.
One man, Marco Antonio Muñoz, a Honduran migrant detained and separated from his family, committed suicide in a Texas jail in May – all this for the crime of moving across this vast planet in search of a better life, a practice as old and as natural as humanity itself.
What is as old as Donald Trump’s political life, however, is his racism and fury over immigration. That is what this presidency is about. It’s what it always has been about.
Remember: Trump’s first significant action after being sworn in, on the Friday that concluded his first week in office, was to sign an executive order banning people from seven majority-Muslim countries around the world from traveling to the U.S.
It was chaos, and it was stomach-churning. People stepped off of their flights at American airports and were detained, held for hours by Customs and Border Protection agents, being refused, in some cases, food, phone calls, and lawyers.
And while the rally against the ban was furious, both in airports and courts, the administration is an inch away from winning the fight.
The Supreme Court has heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of the third version of the travel ban, a version very much in effect, accompanied by a waiver process that is apparently a sham, and is expected to rule in the Justice Department’s favor.
Go back even further, if you’d like. During his campaign, the one he kicked off talking about immigrant “rapists”, Trump decided that he was unable to condemn World War II interment camps.
“I would have had to be there at the time to tell you, to give you a proper answer,” he said in December 2015. He acknowledged that “it’s a tough thing,” internment camps, but then added sanguinely that “war is tough.”
A little while later, Trump first announced his intent to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S., and a little while after that, he began promising to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.
As president, he’s encouraged ICE to behave like a crazed near-paramilitary, pardoned Joe Arpaio, the Arizona border sheriff famous for torturing those confined to his prison, and complimented the “very fine” people who marched through Charlottesville chanting “blood and soil”.
His Attorney General, a man deemed too racist to be a federal judge by Strom Thurmond’s Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986, has overseen this latest effort with a biblical zeal.
And while you might not read the Bible like Jeff Sessions does, but Sessions’ invoking such a high power to justify a policy of separating – in some cases flat out stealing – children from their parents does demonstrate quite clearly the strength of his conviction.
Functionally ending non-white immigration to the United States is Sessions’ life’s work, and he has withstood a torrent of abuse from his boss – who has taken to openly pining that he had selected a different Attorney General – to pursue it.
Sessions’ tenure as the country’s top law enforcement official, then, has been truly dystopian.
He’s ordered prosecutors to pursue maximum sentences and the death penalty wherever possible. He’s threatened to send the leaders of sanctuary cities to prison. He’s ruled that victims of domestic and gang violence are no longer eligible for asylum.
He wants carnage. So does Trump.
According to Mark Krikorian, head of the Center for Immigration Studies, quoted in the Washington Post last month, the president wants a border crackdown resembling “the Iraq War”.
At the moment, he’s getting it something close to it. Add everything up from the last two years, or listen to Trump talk for four minutes, and it’s clear that the goal of the powers that be in his administration is ethnic cleansing.
That means closing the borders to immigrants, even those fleeing deathly violence, and purging the ones already here.
It means more egregious measures, measures not limited to a wall. The New Yorker‘s Jonathan Blitzer has reported that the Flores Agreement, outlining certain requirements for the treatment of minors in government custody, is on the chopping block. It means more camps.
There will be opposition every step of the way. But if the travel ban battle has taught us anything, it’s that the administration will persist. And as Trump and his team are going about this work, they’re being cheered by plenty and tolerated by more.
For the temperature of the cheerleaders, consider that Iowa Rep. Steve King, a man who keeps a Confederate flag on his desk despite his hailing from northern, Union state, tweeted an article by a British white supremacist last Tuesday night.
For a check on the tolerators, consider that no elected member of the Republican Party has condemned King – same as no Republican member of the Senate is currently co-sponsoring a bill to cease the separation of families at the border.
As the soon-to-be former South Carolina representative Mark Sanford can attest, Trump has the G.O.P. whipped.
So even Susan Collins, the moderate senator from Maine whose vote helped to save the Affordable Care Act last summer, sent a letter to her outraged constituents on Sunday outlining why the family separation policy, however unfortunate, is rational.
But we all know that it is not. It is desperately cruel, and it must be fought desperately. These horrors are not going to stop anytime soon.